College workers across England were set to strike on Wednesday of this week over pay. The walkout, by UCU and Unison union members, will be the first joint pay strike in ten years.
Employers have “offered” a 0 percent pay deal for this year. Workers are demanding a £1 an hour rise for all.
Richard McEwan is a lecturer at Tower Hamlets College in east London. He told Socialist Worker, “This action over pay comes on top of a series of campaigns against cuts in education.
“Employers say those cuts mean that they can’t afford to give workers a pay rise. It’s not true.”
Figures released last year showed a threefold rise in the number of college principals grabbing £200,000 or more a year.
Sean Vernell is a UCU rep at City and Islington College in north London. He said, “Unison and UCU members have seen their pay cut in real terms by 15 percent over the last five years. They are furious with the employers’ insulting offer.”
There is big support for the action.
Unison members backed strikes by 66 percent and UCU members supported strikes by 74 percent. Strikers in London planned to march on the Business, Innovation and Skills department on the day of the walkout.
The Tory assault on education is fuelling the anger. Sean said, “The strike will take place in the context of the biggest government offensive against further and adult education since 1993.
“Last year saw thousands of job losses and 400,000 student places disappear. That’s on top of one million student places lost since 2010.”
The Tories are conducting area reviews to merge and close colleges. Some predict that the reviews could cut 300 colleges to just 100.
The anger at the attacks goes beyond college workers.
Shakira Martin is vice president (further education) of the National Union of Students.
She told Socialist Worker, “It is vital that students stand in solidarity with the strike. The attacks on adult and further education are about much more than taking away provision.
“It’s about taking away teachers’ livelihoods. We need to stand side by side in leading the fightback.”
Many workers see Wednesday’s strike as part of a wider campaign to defend education.
NUT union members in sixth forms are balloting for strikes over cuts.
If they vote yes, a walkout and protest is planned for 15 March.
Richard said, “If sixth form teachers strike on 15 March, we should join them. We need to coordinate to win and to defend education.”